This is the second in the Lewis trilogy, starting with “The Black House”. Peter May puts his troubled alter ego Fin MacLeod centre stage, who is a former detective sergeant with the Edinburgh police, recently divorced, haunted by his past.
He has quit his job and come back to Lewis, where he grew up. As this is the second novel, the reader meets all his acquaintances from the first, so it seems a good idea to start reading chronologically, although I must confess that this second book seems a lot better than the first.
Again Fin is taken back to the past of 40 years ago, but as it is not his own past, he follows his investigations more detached and logically.
A corpse has been found in the peat bog, surprisingly well preserved, and Fin helps the local police. This means, of course, looking back 40 years into the history of the island community. Here May concentrates on the fate of orphans, that were first kept in an orphanage in Stornoway in the 1940s, and then the Catholic ones were brought to Harris and distributed to local crofters as farm helps.
It turns out, that Tormod MacDonald, the demented father of Fin´s great love Marsaili, was one of these orphans. His dementia conveniently keeps him from pouring out the truth, but on the other hand he tells us in first person about his feelings and what he remembers about his difficult past. Not really a convincing narrative element, but so be it. Fin has to do a lot of detective work to finally find out the truth about the corpse of the young man.
I came across The Blackhouse” when staying on the Isle of Lewis, so the story had a special meaning for me. I recognised all the places there, the description of the scenery and the ever changing weather conditions is very intense and fascinating.
As there is a third novel, “The Chessmen”, Marsaili and Fin cannot yet come together in “The Lewisman”, but the reader hopes for the best.